Cleveland Cavaliers: Where it all went wrong for Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas and LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images
Isaiah Thomas and LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images /

In 2017, Isaiah Thomas was a finalist for league MVP, waiting on “The Brinks Truck.” Now he’s signed for the veteran’s minimum of 2.5 million, playing as a back up for the Denver Nuggets. What happened?

Isaiah Thomas’ world has always been full of roadblocks. At the University of Wahington, he scrapped but ended up the last pick in the draft. Standing at just five-foot-nine, in an NBA where the average height is six-foot-seven, was never going to be easy.

But somehow, he thrived. In his 2017 campaign, he averaged 28.9 points per game with 5.9 assists and was a finalist for league MVP.

Thomas became an immediate fan favorite. He practically embodied every skinny, short kid with an NBA dream. His hard-nosed, chip on the shoulder brand of basketball endeared him to fans all over the world.

He was one of the NBA’s brightest stars and an unlikely leader for the storied Boston Celtics. The Brinks truck was on its way. It seemed, after years of searching, Isaiah had finally found a home.

The dream ended in a second.

During a game in Minnesota two years ago, Isaiah suffered a femoral-acetabular impingement with a labral tear. In laymen terms, we would call it “a career-altering injury.”

An undersized guard that relied heavily on athleticism and an explosive first step was not going to react well to a dramatic reduction in overall quickness.

Danny Ainge, realizing his star point guard was about to fall off a cliff, did what Danny Ainge does. He made a savvy deal. The Celtics swap for Kyrie Irving sent waves through the NBA world, with the Cavs feeling the effects of this trade till this very day.

More from King James Gospel

Isaiah, understandably, did not take this very well.  After spending two full years literally destroying his body to carry a franchise, the news of a trade felt like a shot in the gut.

With news of the trade, Thomas prepared for a new life in Cleveland. Being beaten by the Cavs the previous two years, Isaiah was ecstatic to play with LeBron and to have a shot at the Finals.

However, like a lot of things in Isaiah Thomas’s life, things didn’t go according to plan.

His hip took significantly longer to heal than expected. Even after he was cleared to play, he looked like a shadow of himself. His first step, which made up for his lack of height, was gone. His shot felt off. And most of all, his confidence plummeted.

When he wasn’t underperforming on the court, he was criticizing his teammates off of it. Isaiah’s tenacity, hard work, and competitiveness helped establish him as a leader when he was playing at a high level. When he was shooting 36.1 percent from the field and 25 percent from three, it came across as self-serving.

His status of complete unplayability during defensive possessions became unavoidable.

Most of all, it seemed Isaiah was driving a wedge into the team, and irritating everyone in the process.

He butted heads with LeBron, who saw him as a sub-par replacement for Kyrie. He clashed with Kevin Love, calling him out for leaving games after experiencing panic attacks.

Finally, after several months of awful play, fights, and “we would rather have a lawn chair out there than you” style defense, the Thomas saga was put to an end.

Isaiah was traded to the L.A. Lakers in a three-team trade for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

In Los Angeles, Isaiah played decently and received some level of interest from the Lakers, but ultimately went unsigned.

Throughout his NBA career, Thomas has criticized teammates, coaches, and has built somewhat of a difficult reputation. with his athleticism hampered by his injury, few teams felt he was worth taking on. This is a sad turn of events for a player who has arguably the biggest heart in the NBA.

After months of waiting, Thomas agreed to a one-year, “veterans minimum” deal with the Denver Nuggets. The deal, worth around 2.5 million, is a last chance for the former star.

Isaiah has, and always will be, a polarizing player. He is a workaholic and a student of the game. On the flip side, barring the NBA allowing stilts, he will never be able to defend at a reasonable level. He has a huge heart and steps up in big moments. He can also be otherworldly levels of annoying.

Next: Cleveland Cavaliers: Top 30 all-time greatest players

Isaiah Thomas was a poor fit for Cleveland. Perhaps joining an up-and-coming Nuggets team will benefit the vet. And who knows, maybe they’ll get that Brinks truck back up and running.